Verdict nears in Enterprise teacher murder case

Jurors have gone home for the night following hours of closing arguments, during which the defense argued the U.S. DOJ failed to prove their case.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 12:09 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WTVY) - Federal prosecuting attorneys painted Jason Starr and his brother, Darin Starr, as villains during closing arguments of their murder-for-hire trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Wendell told jurors the only reasonable conclusion of the nine-day trial is a guilty verdict.

The Department of Justice claims Jason purchased his brother a $300 motorcycle and paid him $2,600 to kill Jason’s former wife, Enterprise elementary teacher Sara Starr, with whom he had four children.

Wendell believes Darin rode the motorcycle from his home near San Antonio, Texas, to Coffee County, where he cased his ex-sister-in-law’s home on November 18, 2017.

After celebrating Thanksgiving with his elderly mother, he returned to Sara’s home—her church’s pastorium—nine days later, and when she headed to school after the holiday break, he shot her at point-blank range with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Despite their implication, those federal prosecutors could not present a shred of physical evidence, a case deficiency that defense attorneys pounded upon.

“It’s got to be true because he said it,” Jim Parkman, Jason’s attorney, sarcastically said of Wendell and his allegation.

He reminded jurors that investigators found no murder weapon, no tire tracks linked to Darin Starr’s motorcycle, and no eyewitness to the crime, and he claimed their timeline that put him on Interstate 10 within an hour of the shooting had flaws.

After four days of prosecution testimony, the defense presented only four witnesses whose cumulative time on the stand barely exceeded 90 minutes.

Parkman, renowned for his courtroom antics, reminded jurors the defense need not present any evidence, but prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I could have got me a lounge chair, table, and a drink with an umbrella and sat back (during the trial,)” he told them with a chuckle.

Wendell, though, urged jurors to use their common sense, and they would see that Jason was motivated by greed and disdain for Sara, and circumstantial evidence points directly at him and his brother.

Records show a court ordered him to pay Sara several thousand dollars a month in support. Wendell said he was furious that she would get about half of his income, including a portion of his military retirement.

In 2017, when Jason and Sara Starr’s divorce became final, Jason began sending payments to a woman in Texas who testified she passed them along to Darin, a friend for whom she had a romantic interest.

In jail on theft charges afterward, he made calls to friends, begging them to get up with Jason, telling them Jason owed him a favor.

“I can’t tell you what for,” he said on recording in which he suggested Jason had money put aside for him.

Past those phone conversations, U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker ruled jurors could not hear Darin’s criminal history.

Sara’s neighbor, who lived across a county road near Chancellor, Alabama, testified that he heard a motorcycle at her home on the night Darin Starr arrived in Alabama.

Minutes after her murder, a camera down the road captured an image of a motorcycle traveling from the crime scene’s direction.

However, neither the neighbor nor the camera could identify it as Starr’s newly purchased bike or him as the rider.

“Nothing is going to show you that Darin rode that motorcycle,” said his attorney, Jon Carlton Taylor, during his closings.

Like Parkman, he insists there is no evidence the Starr brothers committed the dastardly crime of which the prosecutors accused them.

He urged jurors not to get caught up in the prosecution and examine the facts.

“The eyes see what the mind wants to see,” Taylor said.

However, Wendell concluded by calling Sara Starr’s murder “a perfect crime.”

Deliberations are expected to commence Tuesday afternoon.

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